BOZICH | Louisville shares stage with Kansas, others in college hoops trial
By Rick Bozich
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- At some point, you have to have fun with the college basketball corruption trial unfolding in Manhattan.
Otherwise, you’d be consumed researching the NCAA death penalty, trying to determine how many top programs are not paying players and wondering when somebody will shine a bright light on college football, too.
The relevance of the NCAA and amateur athletes in a world of $5-to-7 million coaches is always a topic that will always light up the phone lines.
So on my way to work Thursday, I stopped at a downtown location that has made its way into the discussion into a federal courtroom in New York City.
Not the KFC Yum! Center, where Brian Bowen never played a second.
Not the Galt House, where Bowen’s parents allegedly lived in a $2,300 a month apartment before the hilarious Brian-Bowen-fell out-of-the sky-into-Louisville’s-lap story fell apart.
No, the spot that made its way into a column written by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports from the trial on Tuesday was Bader’s Food Mart at 300 S. First Street.
It’s roughly three blocks from where the Cardinals play basketball and another two from the Galt House. According to Wetzel, it’s where Bowen’s father, Brian Sr., and former U of L assistant coach Kenny Johnson met on July 26, 2017.
Bowen Sr. said he sat in Johnson’s car and asked for $2,000 to help cover the rent. Bowen said Johnson seemed surprised by the request and gave him nothing but a hard time that day. But after Bowen placed a phone call to another connection, Johnson later gave him $1,300 during a meeting in front of the Galt House.
I stopped at Bader’s on Thursday. I did not have $1,300.
I grabbed a bottle of water, a Quest bar and (yes) a Tootsie Pop. It’s a popular place, the most prominent downtown gas station and a bit of a public spot to consider exchanging large amounts of cash. People moving in a out. A broken down car waiting for a new battery. Somebody asking for directions.
Several customers bought lottery tickets and scratch-off cards Thursday afternoon. I asked the woman as well as the man working the cash register if this was the place that had been in the news in college basketball this week.
They knew nothing.
The woman quickly told me she was a University of Kentucky fan but that she was not surprised.
“Louisville fans park here all the time, especially whenever there is a game,” she said.
I told her this alleged meeting was not about a game. It was about The Game within the game, a request for money by the father of a college basketball recruit.
“Really,” she said. “If that’s right, and they met in our parking lot, then we should have gotten a percentage, right?”
She laughed. Her co-worker laughed. They got back to the job of working the cash register.
If only it was that easy for the rest of the game. Louisville started the week as the school with the most pressing issue, even though U of L is the only program that fired its head coach.
As suspected, North Carolina State has some explaining to do for its recruitment of guard Dennis Smith. On Thursday, U of L was joined by Kansas (Billy Preston), Miami (Nassir Little) and Arizona (DeAndre Ayton).
According to stories and tweets filed by reporters at the trial, an AAU/adidas guy named T.J. Gassnola testified that Preston’s mother was paid around $89,000, a family friend of Ayton was paid $15,000 and that it would take a big number for Miami to get Little (now at North Carolina).
One of the more interesting tweets was posted by Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com, who said Gassnola testified that he kept the news of the Bowen payment from former U of L coach Rick Pitino.
What would a reasonable man make of all this? I asked three former college basketball head coaches. Each had a different take.
“It makes you wonder about a lot of schools,” one former coach said. “There have been a lot of players that were better players than the ones we’re talking about in this trial. That’s what I keep thinking about.”
“What has a lot of coaches worried is the belief that the NCAA does not have to vet the allegations brought forth in this trial,” said another former coach. “If these things are determined to be true, the NCAA can act accordingly. There have to be some very nervous guys out there.”
And it is the NCAA, not the federal government, that many coaches are watching here. The chatter among the coaches on the sidelines, guys whose schools have not been swept into this case, is that they are more concerned with how the NCAA will respond.
They want coaches who have broken the rules booted from the game. They want programs who crossed the lines serving serious probation. They want the NCAA to act.
Said another former coach: “If you’re a head coach at a program where some of this stuff has been going on, you either knew or you chose not to know.
“Otherwise, it’s like a wise coach said a long time ago: ‘The crime isn’t cheating. The crime is losing.’“
So it goes for another troubled week for college basketball.
Copyright 2018 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved